June 9, 2011

Tropical Agriculture and Mission Class

Written by Leigh Anne Coble
For three weeks, the TAM (Tropical Agriculture and Mission) class was led by Dr. Unander into the strawberry fields of local farmers, up to the top of volcanoes, and into the ADE classroom to share and learn. Not only did these U.S. students learn first-hand about local agriculture, but they also had the opportunity to travel for three days to the beach, the selva, and all around. After living together at the ADE center and riding in the green van for hours on end, they experienced Costa Rica together and became close friends. The class also had a discussion on going into the Slums, reading stories of families who gave up their comfortable life to actively serve. 

The TAM Class at Poás Volcano
I had a chance to visit two of the local farms with the TAM class. Gabi’s mother, Maritza, led us up a hill to a greenhouse full of plump strawberries and beautiful bell peppers. The students stood between the rows of strawberries, taking notes, and asking questions, which Tomás translated. Maritza explained the growing process, the materials she uses such as the large plastic covering over the crops, and then graciously offered us a taste of her strawberries. We also visited Carlos and Lidianett (also members of the local church,) who showed us how, according to Lidianett, their farm is thriving “gracias a Dios.” They had strawberries, peppers, granadía, mora, and more. Lydianette dreams of having her own cow and building a little house on a hill that would look out over her land.

The TAM students used the information they learned in the field and in the classroom to put together presentations for the ADE students (the ADE students also had the chance to present to the TAM students several weeks earlier.) The TAM class came to the high school for two days to teach about different plants, specifically on the Legume, Bromeliad, Rose, and Poeaceae families. Here are some snippets of what we learned from them:
·     Bri and Liz: Costa Rica’s national tree (the Guanacaste Tree), and everyone’s favorite dish, gallo pinto, are legumes
·     Lauren and Beth: discussed how Christopher Columbus brought the pineapple to Europe (What didn’t Columbus do?)
·     Courtney and Lucille: how to determine what flowers are in the rose family by certain characteristics (Fabian was the brave sole who came up and, from five different flowers in a vase, identified the ones in the Rose family)
·     Dave and Cade: showed us how delicious sugar cane is (they brought fresh samples and presented their slides while the students chewed happily)

Lucille and Courtney show Fabian how to identify
flowers in the Rose Family
Outside of presenting, studying, writing papers, and tromping through farms in rain boots, the students also found time to read. The ADE staff had the opportunity to sit in on their discussion of what the kinds of poverty in the world, and how we are called to serve. Dr. Unander opened the discussion with a powerful, controversial question: “Do we believe we are called to help save others?” We talked a little about who these “others” are and the kinds of poverty that the Bible commands us to serve, such as the oppressed, widows, orphans, those in debt, the poor in spirit, etc.  “How we see the poor, how we perceive and define them will determine how we treat them.” Several people mentioned that with mission, it is crucial to maintain a humble and learning attitude, particularly when serving within the context of an unfamiliar culture or language. 

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TAM student, Lauren Nickell, will be staying in Vara Blanca until August as an intern with ADE and will use what she learned from the class to work on agriculture projects in the local community. She wrote about her experience with the class:

“By taking Tropical Agriculture through the Au Sable Institute, I began to get to know rural Costa Rica. Together with students from 5 universities, I came to appreciate the beauty and diversity of Costa Rican agriculture and its role in Vara Blanca. ADE played an important role in the Missions part of the class, integrating development strategies into our learning that we may appreciate the importance of agriculture in the livelihoods of the local people. I particularly enjoyed looking at all the agricultural products of Costa Rica, not limiting it to the highlands. We traveled a total of 5 days, visiting the economically important crops of the tropics. Some of the most informative visits were small, self-sustaining farms such as that of Don Raphael (figure 1) where we viewed over 15 different food crops growing around his house. He also boasts a practical biodigestor (figure 2) next to his livestock where organic matter is converted into methane gas that powers his gas stove and deposits decomposed fertilizer for his crops. This was a genuine perspective of agriculture in Costa Rica and the possibility it holds for many people. We were constantly challenged to analyze the agricultural methods with long term sustainability in mind and The TAM class helped develop my own perspective on Costa Rican agriculture and ways that it can be used for development.”
Lauren takes notes in Carlos and Lidianett's greenhouse.

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